30 May 2016

The Remembrance of His Mercy

We’re all in the same boat, the same predicament.

There may be all the difference in the world between the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the well-fed and the hungry; between the mother of ten and the barren widow.  But everyone alike is brought to nothing in the end.  For all alike are sinful and unclean.  There is no one who is righteous, no, not even one.

The grass is always greener on the neighbor’s side of the fence, but the truth is that your grass and his will wither and fade just the same, and all your flowers, too.  You both brought the same thing into this world, and you’ll take the same thing out: Nothing.  Whatever anybody has between the cradle and the grave is by the utter charity of one and the same God.

Protests of unfairness are a lie.  Your neighbor’s sins and failings seem more pronounced to you, more egregious and less excusable than your own, but that’s not really true.  Every sin is damnable.  Neither are his merits or her virtues any more or less than yours, not before God.  You and your neighbor are no different in deserving nothing but punishment.

But the Lord, the one true God, is merciful to you and to all people.  He makes no distinction and shows no partiality, but abounds in riches for all who call on Him.  For whoever calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.  He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the world, the Gospel to all of creation.  He sends the Apostles to make disciples of all the nations, to baptize and to catechize in His Name, both Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men, male and female, adults and children.  For in every nation the one who fears the Lord and does what is right is welcome to Him.

But who, then, shall be saved?  For there is no one who does right, no one who is good but God, and no one who calls on the Name of the Lord.

We’re all in the same boat, the same predicament.  And we should all be lost, every one of us, completely and forever: brought low, sent away empty, and slain as the wicked.

Except that God, the Lord, actively remembers us in love.  He has created you for life with Himself, and, not according to your merit, but according to His mercy, it is His good and gracious will to give you that life.  And as it is by the grace and mercy of God, by His tender compassion and loving-kindness, it is for one and all alike, as it is for you.

So it is that the Lord, who loves you, comes to save you from sin and death.  He comes to give you justice: not the justice you deserve, which would destroy you, but the justice of His Atonement, His Redemption, His forgiveness of your sins, His reconciliation, and His peace.  He comes to judge you righteous with His righteousness; not by your works of the Law, but by His grace, by the Word and work of Christ.  He comes to rescue the children of Adam & Eve from death and the grave, and to bring you and all into the Paradise of His New Creation.

In order to do and accomplish all of this — and this is the way and means by which He remembers you and His mercy toward you — He fully empathizes with you by making your predicament His own.  He gets on board the same boat with you, the sinking ship in the midst of the storm, tossed about by wind and wave, in which you and all are going under.  He submits Himself to the flood, to drown and die with you and all, with all your sinful lusts and desires.

He first of all becomes like you: true Man of flesh and blood, conceived and born of the Woman, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Son of God, of one substance with the Father from all eternity, takes the human nature of this Mother to be His own, so that He is now of one substance with you, with all men and women everywhere.  He has a Body of flesh like yours.  He has blood like yours.

And in His Body He bears all your sins and suffers your death.  He sheds His Blood to make propitiation for you, to establish His Covenant with you.  He takes your weakness and hurt upon Himself, your sickness unto death into His flesh, your illness and disease into His bloodstream.  All the consequences of your sin, all your guilt and shame, your punishment and failure, and all the sins of others against you, He has made His own: to feel all the pain, and to bear all the blame.

He is the One who is abandoned by friends and accused by enemies.  He is the One despised and rejected by men.  He makes Himself poor and lowly, so that you might be exalted and become rich in the Kingdom of God.  He hungers and thirsts, so that you might eat and drink and be filled and satisfied in both body and soul.

As He bears and suffers all of this on your behalf, and as He dies your death in your place, so does He also receive and bear the Holy Spirit on your behalf, in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, in the human nature that He shares with you through His Mom.

By His Incarnation, He makes Himself one with you and all people, your Brother in the flesh.  By His voluntary humiliation, by His Cross and Passion, He makes your predicament His own.  And by His anointing with the Spirit of His God and Father, as the Christ, your Savior, at His Baptism and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead, He brings you out of death into life, raises you up with Himself, and sanctifies your body of flesh and blood with His own divine holiness and glory.

That is what the Son of Mary has accomplished in Himself for you, and that is what He gives you by His grace in the Holy Gospel.

As He came for you then, conceived and born of St. Mary, so does He come to you now in the same flesh and blood.  As He was conceived in her womb by the Word and Spirit of God, so by the same Word and Spirit does He give Himself to you.  And as He visited St. Elizabeth in the womb of His Mother, so does He visit you here in the womb of His Church.

What is more, as St. John the Baptist, while yet a babe unborn within his own mother, announced the coming of the Christ and pointed to Him by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so does the Lord still send His servant before His face, within His Church on earth, to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to baptize, to prepare the way and point to the Christ.  He does so here and now, so that you may rejoice and sing with Holy Mother Church and all the people of God.

This is the Visitation of the Lord by which you are saved, by which you are raised up, exalted, well-fed, and made rich with the good things of God.  He truly does great things for you.

As St. Mary was a new and better Ark of the Covenant, by whom the Lord came to Judah in the flesh, so does He now come to you with His flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Not only conceived and born of Mary, but crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen from the dead, ever living to intercede for you as your great High Priest at the Right Hand of His Father.

His flesh and blood are the fruits of His Life-giving Cross.  So, too, your Holy Baptism is a sharing in His Cross, and the Gospel is the preaching of His Cross.

The Cross of Christ is the hiddenness of the womb in which He visits you.  It is the humiliation of His life on earth, and the hunger of His righteousness, which is by faith and not by sight.

It is thus by His Cross that He works repentance in you — unto the forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life in Him.  He wounds in order to heal.  He kills in order to make alive.  He puts you to death, in order to raise you up with Himself in glory.  He lets you go hungry, in order to feed you with the Bread of His own Body.

And in this way He bestows the Spirit upon you: by the Word of His Cross, the Ministry of His Gospel, within the womb of His Church, and therefore hidden from the eyes of the world in such humility and weakness, sometimes in sorrow and shame.  Though you are suspected and accused, despised and rejected — though you are sinful and unclean, conceived and born in sin, deserving of punishment, death, and damnation — your dying and rising with Christ are a new conception and new birth by His Word and Spirit.  Thus are you a child of God; indeed, a son of God in Christ.

As He has become like you in all respects, save only without sin, so have you become like Him.  You are righteous with His righteousness, and holy with His holiness.  You are faithful with His faithfulness, and, as He first loves you, so do you also love with His own love.  For there is the fulfillment of the Word that He speaks to you.  He forgives you all your sins, and you are forgiven.  He justifies you, and you are just.  He sanctifies you, and so do you live in love, in the Light of the Glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Therefore, like the Lord Jesus, who lives in you, and you in Him: Forgive and love your neighbor, and gladly do good to those who sin against you.  Show hospitality, as Elizabeth welcomed Mary into her home, and as Mary surely served and cared for her elderly relative in those final months of her pregnancy at such an advanced age.  Care for your neighbor, too, as the Lord Himself shows hospitality to you in His Church, clothing you with His righteousness in Holy Baptism, feeding you with Himself in the Holy Communion, and caring for your body and soul with His Gospel.

In the love of Christ, by the grace of God, do good to all people, contributing as you are able to the needs of your neighbor.  Do so with empathy and compassion, since you and all are children of Adam.  All of you alike are sinful and subject to death.  But so are all of you alike redeemed and reconciled to God by the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of the Second Adam, Christ Jesus.

To those who do not know the Lord, who do not love and trust in Him, let your gracious love, your gentle kindness, your patience and peace, be His hidden Visitation unto them.  Bear Him in your body, in all your words and actions, and in your song, as dear St. Mary bore Him in her womb and magnified His holy Name with her confession of His Word.

And all the more so, be at peace and do good to those who are your “relatives” in Christ Jesus, your brothers and sisters and cousins in the Lord, whether young or old, married or unmarried, with or without children, orphaned or widowed.  For you are all one Body in Christ.  You are children of one God and Father.  You are anointed by one and the same Holy Spirit.  You are baptized with one Baptism, forgiven alike by one Gospel, fed with one Bread and given to drink from one Chalice at one Lord’s Table.

In Him is the Life and Salvation of His whole Church, the holy Ark of Christendom, in which He visits you in mercy; in which you abide with Him in safety and in peace.

Beloved, we are all in the same Boat, the same Body of Christ, the same Jesus.  And blessed are you, who believe in Him, for His mercy is upon generation after generation of those who fear Him.  So has He spoken, so has He accomplished, and so shall it be done.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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